55 Plus: Sheriff Ben Stewart Speaks On The Right To Bear ArmsOct 1st, 2013 | By Admin | Category: Community News
By Lynette Norris
Greene Publishing, Inc.
Adopted Dec. 17, 1791, the Second Amendment to the Constitution is very short and brief: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” Its exact meaning is still under contention, Sheriff Ben Stewart told the audience at the 55 Plus Club’s September meeting. It is challenged year after year. It is essentially national law, but for the last few years, it has basically been left up to the states for interpretation. Florida’s many interpretations over the last few years have resulted in a one-inch-thick volume of firearm-related state statutes. Stewart’s interpretation is a bit more succinct: “We have a right to keep and bear arms.” Law-abiding citizens have a right to defend themselves when threatened by criminals, he told the audience, because some criminals are, quite simply, thugs. They don’t play fair. They don’t play by the rules. They cannot be reasoned with. “Some people,” said Stewart, “are just mean as hell.” To illustrate his point, he tells of one instance where a crazed individual armed with a brick was breaking out the windows at the local health department; the incident took place less than a year after another man had been beaten to death with a stick in broad daylight right in the health department parking lot, so the employees inside the building were terrified. It took 12 deputies to subdue the brick-wielding perp, after he was tasered at least three times. If the man had chosen to attack a lone, unarmed individual, that person would not have stood a chance. These are the kind of predators who would not give an elderly citizen an even chance in a fight. They fear nothing…except another person with a gun. “I strongly encourage you to have a weapon,” said Stewart. He is serious about protecting the firearms rights of law-abiding citizens, so much so that he joined with the sheriffs in Florida’s other 66 counties in signing a resolution stating that they would resign from their office rather than be forced by new gun regulations to take firearms away from people. He made it clear that he was speaking of law-abiding citizens, not criminals, thugs, or “somebody being stupid and running drugs.” When it comes to the mountain of Florida Statutes regulating firearms, Stewart chose to focus on one or two that were most relevant to the people in the audience. When it comes to the right of self-defense, one of the biggest changes to come along is known as the “Stand-Your-Ground” law. Before this change, a person who was confronted by a criminal had a duty to retreat, or at least try to retreat. The “Stand-Your-Ground” law changed all that. There is now no duty to back away and run; a person so accosted has the right to stay put and defend himself or herself, but as in all things, some common sense applies. For example, if a six-foot-five, 300-pound man is accosted by a skinny little guy wielding a stick, the big guy doesn’t have the right to shoot the little guy. There has to be a reasonable fear of death or great bodily harm on the part of the intended victim. On the other hand, a small, elderly lady who is threatened by a 300-pound man has no other way to protect herself except with a firearm. Another law, known as the “Castle Doctrine,” gives people the right to defend their homes. Once again, there must be the fear of bodily harm. If someone is trespassing in your yard, you can’t shoot him. However, if that person is breaking into your home at 3 a.m., you can. The “Castle Doctrine” also extends to your vehicle, which is seen as an extension of your home. If someone is trying to get at you in your car, and there is reasonable fear of bodily harm, you have the right to shoot. Because the Castle Doctrine extends to your car, employers are not allowed to forbid you to have a gun in your car while it is parked in their parking lot during working hours. The Castle Doctrine takes precedence. But, who can have a gun in their vehicle, and when do they need a permit? Anyone who is a citizen and is at least 18 years old may have a gun in the car. If, for example, it is holstered and stored in the glove compartment or under the passenger seat (according to what is known as the “two step rule,” meaning that it would take at least two steps to get to the gun), then no permit is necessary. If the person wants to carry the gun in a pocket or purse, then he or she will need to get a “conceal-and-carry” permit. Capt. Mark Joost of the MCSO also spoke for a few minutes about the “conceal-and-carry” classes he has been teaching for two years, helping everyone from old men in motorized wheelchairs to young people. “To me, that is our “well-armed militia” he said. “I want to help law-abiding citizens feel empowered to defend themselves from the kind of predators that walk among us. They rub elbows with us at the Winn-Dixie. They are the kind of predators who used to be institutionalized…they are mentally troubled. They are the man who will beat somebody to death with a stick in broad daylight in front of the health department.” One of the things he teaches at these classes is “stress inoculation,” where people learn to deal with stress factors on the firing range and in various other circumstances. They learn how to deal with shooting in the dark, where 64 percent of all shootings take place. They learn how to deal with weapon malfunctions. The more they’re exposed to these stress factors, the better they will be able to handle them. They also practice drawing their weapon from wherever they will customarily carry it, whether it is from a purse or a pocket. There is a charge for these classes, but no one will be turned away if they cannot afford to pay. Joost also urged continued practice on the firing range. “Be realistic,” he said. “Don’t underestimate the dynamics of confrontations.” Even law enforcement officers go through days and days of continual training with firearms each year. He conceded that carrying a firearm was not a decision that most people made lightly, and that each person, before making the decision to pick up a weapon, would also have to make the decision that he was prepared to use it if necessary. But people do have that right, and they must decide for themselves whether or not they’ll use deadly force, and at what point. “As an elderly person, you have the right to use a deadly weapon,” said Stewart. “That may not be the choice you want to make, but you do have that right.”
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